A blog by George Engel

Archive for July, 2009

Content, Collaboration, Communication


Figure 1.  Tools of Distance Education

In the world of distance education and the age of digital literacy, knowledge of the tools and strategies that will assist you in constructing knowledge from content, in collaborating with peers, and in communicating with peers is important. I have put together in this blog is a brief discussion of several tools and links to some sites that contain them. I may update this list in the future as I gather more information about these tools.


Content can be developed in many ways.

TEXT: First on my list is the text circle. It is a resource that can either be in print form or an e-version as many publishers are offering virtual text books.

JOURNALS: Journals are publications for research and scholarly articles. Journals can also be print or virtual.

E-BRARIES: These are virtual libraries, like the one at Walden University, that provide an enormous amount of virtual text resources that are not otherwise available to the off-campus student. With a good set up, you can highlight text, bookmark text for future reference, and even print selections from the text.

GOOGLE SCHOLAR: Even though it is still in its beta form, this is an outstanding resource to research for journals and papers on a particular topic.

TEACHER PRESENCE: This is also critical for the student to have in an online learning environment. E-learners need that subtle guidance that the instructor can offer from time to time while reviewing and constructing knowledge.


The Internet has a wealth of collaborative tools since the advent of Web 2.0.

BLOGS: Blogs are a means of posting ideas for peer review. They can be built as a collaborative tool where individuals post ideas and group members comment and share their ideas as well. Blogs are fruitful tools that have the ability to foster group learning. A couple of popular blog sites that offer free blogs for any user are WordPress and BlogSpot.

WIKIS: Wikis are an excellent collaborative tool that allows all members of a group to post and edit a document. They also allow for peer review in their discussion pages. WikiSpaces is a popular free wiki hosting site.

GOOGLE DOCS: Google docs are a collaborative work group suite that allows multiple individuals to edit and share documents synchronously as well as asynchronously. Groups can quickly piece together work on a single document without having to meet or send the document via email for editing.

NING: Ning is a place where groups can build their own social networking site for sharing of information as well as posting documents and images for peer review.

SOCIAL BOOKMARKING: Social bookmarking sites like Delicious allow for multiple group members to share and post resources with a common thread or tag. These resources can then be used and commented on by all group members as they are working on a collaborative project.


There is a wealth of means for communication in the age of web 2.0.

FORUMS OR DISCUSSIN GROUPS: These are locations where large groups of individuals can post a topic or idea in a thread and have peers and instructors comment on it. This form of communication is asynchronous.

SKYPE: Skype is a communication tool that allows for synchronous conversations through text, voice, and video. It allows multiple individuals to be conversing at once.

EMAIL: Email is a means for asynchronous communication that might not be appropriate for a forum or discussion group. It is an extremely popular form of communication and is one of the older communication tools on this list. Gmail is a popular free email hosting tool.

SECOND LIFE: Second life is an online virtual environment where people can meet and converse using avatars. It does add a unique sense of realty to conversation and discussions among groups.

MOBILE DEVICES: These devices more commonly known as cell phones are actually tiny mobile computers that allow for voice and text chat. They also allow for access to sites like Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Google Docs, and many others, allowing e-learners to keep in contact with their peers and instructor while away from a hardwired computer.

Many of the sites, ideas, and devices mentioned above share characteristics with other categories. For instance, Second Life could also be used by groups for collaborative work. Wikis and blogs could be used for communication purposes. As a combination, however, they allow for a rich online learning experience for e-learners.

The following site http://mashable.com/2007/07/22/online-collaboration is a blog that is listing a wealth of collaborative tools on the web. Many I have not heard of but thought to put it here as a listing for those who are interested in more collaborative software.

Collaborative learning

Ok, in my readings this week by Palloff and Pratt (2005, 2007), came across a couple of discussions that I would like to reiterate. 

The first item would focus on assessment of collaborative activity.  It is a challenge for educators to determine the best methods for assessment of group work.  As Palloff and Pratt (2005) said, “A simple rule to remember when assessing collaborative work is that collaborative activities are best assessed collaboratively.”  (pg 44).  This means that evaluations should not just rest on the shoulders of the instructor.  Evaluations must also be shared by peers in the group.  Instructors can assess the overall outcome of the collaborative work as well as individual work.  However, they should equally take into account peer evaluations (Palloff and Pratt, 2005). 

Peer evaluations give the instructor insight into the group dynamic that may not have been obvious from the outside.  However, should a peer evaluation seem to have a detrimental bias, due to internal or unresolved conflict within the group, the instructor should be allowed to override a peer assessment if warranted (Palloff and Pratt, 2005).

Now, what about the group member who is resistant or uncooperative in the group? There are several approaches to help deal with this.  First of all, the group when initially established should develop a group charter.  A group charter is a simple document that outlines rolls and responsibilities of each group member.  This charter can set in place guidelines to deal with the uncooperative group member.  As a cooperative document the charter ensures “buy-in from all members of the team (Palloff and Pratt, 2005, pg 29) 

If a charter doesn’t motivate all group members, then further action should be taken by group members to encourage participation by the reluctant member.  They could contact the member to determine the reasons for the non-participation.  Ultimately, however, the group would have to involve the instructor if the reluctant member refuses to cooperate. 

Proper design of projects and assessments is also a key to assessing collaborative work.  If the group fully understands what is to be done and how it is to be assessed at the beginning there is a greater chance of full buy-in by all group members (Palloff and Pratt, 2005)

I found a blog post at http://cilass.group.shef.ac.uk/?p=153 where the author gives some suggestions to assist with the group dynamic.  They mention activities such as icebreakers that allow group members to share strengths and weaknesses so group work can be shared appropriately.  Also, they mention in the safety of a group environment members could try things they have little skill at to learn and practice the skill.

Palloff, R. and Pratt, K. (2005).  Collaborating online. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pallof, R. and Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

My Storyboard

Well, I have spent hours putting this thing together.  It is a storyboard for my video that I am working on.  My theme is based on gaming in education.  Please note that this is a work in progress as all story boards are when videos are made.  I will be shifting, adding more content, and removing content as I go.  The only time the story board will be complete is when I finish the final production of the video.

Here it is: StoryboardEngelGeorge